Pyramids of Giza History | Construction, Timeline & More
Located in Giza Necropolis, the Pyramids of Giza are a cluster of massive tombs that were built over 4500 years ago by the ancient Egyptians. They were once grand tombs for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Before you plan a visit, learn more about the history of the Pyramids of Giza.
What are the Pyramids of Giza?
Who Built the Pyramids of Giza?
The Pyramids of Giza were built during the fourth dynasty by the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
However, they weren’t the first pyramids to be built. The very first pyramid was built by the Pharaoh Djoser at Saqqara around 2670 BC, and then in 2630 BC the Pharaoh Snefru, father of Khufu, built the first true pyramid, the Red Pyramid at Dashur.
Pyramid of Khufu
Completed c. 2560 BC
The oldest pyramid in Giza is the Great Pyramid of Khufu. It began construction around 2600 BC, and was completed around 2570 BC. It features three known chambers that housed the king’s sarcophagus along with his treasures. Three smaller queen's pyramids and two boat pits are also associated with Khufu. At a height of 137m, this pyramid was considered to be the tallest man-made structure for thousands of years.
Pyramid of Khafre
Completed c. 2570 BC
The next pyramid was built by Khufu’s son, Khafre. At 136m high, it’s the second-tallest pyramid in Giza. It was completed around 2570 BC and appears larger than Khufu’s Pyramid as it stands on higher ground. Its peak is still capped with the original polished limestone casing. A Valley Temple featuring several statues of Khafre and the Great Sphinx is also a part of this pyramid complex.
The Great Sphinx of Giza
Completed c. 2510 BC
Located near Khafre’s Valley Temple is a massive sculpture of the Great Sphinx. It was called “the Sphinx” by the ancient Greeks because it resembled their mythical winged monster with the head of a man and a body of a lion. While no one knows for sure what this statue was intended for, it was carved from the bedrock during Khafre’s reign, and probably portrays his features.
Pyramid of Menkaure
Completed c. 2510 BC
The last of the pyramids of Giza was built for Khafre’s son, Menkaure, around 2510 BC. It is the smallest of the three main pyramids at just 62m. It is believed that the pharaoh Menkaure died before the structure was completed, leaving some stones unfinished. The pyramid of Menkaure is also accompanied by three smaller pyramids as well as a valley temple that was once contained many statues of the king.
Built c. 2600–2500 BC
To the east of the Great Pyramid of Khufu's, there are three small pyramids, some just 20m high. These are the tombs of Khufu’s wives and sisters, popularly known as the Queens' Pyramids. They include the Pyramid of Hetepheres, Khufu’s mother, and the Queens Meritites and Henutsen, his wives. South of the Pyramid of Menkaure are three more small Queens’ Pyramids, however, it is unknown who is buried there.
Cemeteries & Noble’s Tombs
Built c. 2500–2100 BC
Surrounding the three pyramids are many flat-topped funerary structures called mastabas. They were used for the burials of lesser relatives or officials of the kings and were arranged along streets and avenues. These were built between 2575–2465 BC. You can also see tombs belonging to the workers who spent up to 85 years to complete building the three pyramids and the rest of the Giza complex.
Pyramids of Giza Timeline
- c. 2560 BC: The Great Pyramid of Giza is constructed by Pharaoh Khufu
- c. 2530 BC: Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx are built at Giza.
- c. 2510 BC: Pyramid of Menkaure is built at Giza.
- c. 480 BC: Greek writer Herodotus visited the pyramids
- c. 100 BC – c.400 AD: Giza becomes a popular Roman tourist site
- 820 AD: Caliph al-Mamun tunneled into the Great Pyramid
- 1196: Al-Aziz Uthman, the Sultan of Egypt, attempts to demolish the pyramids
- 1700: Travelers and Egyptologists began exploring pyramids
- 1765: Englishman named Davison finds the King's Chamber in the Great Pyramid.
- 1798: Napoleon defeats a local Ottoman ruler of Egypt at the Battle of the Pyramids
- 1817–18: First modern archaeological dig, supervised by Giovanni Belzoni
- 1837: Egyptologist Howard Vyse finds Menkaure’s sarcophagus
- 1838: Sarcophagus of the Pharaoh Menkaure sinks with the ship Beatrice on the way to Great Britain
- 1914–18: During World War I, the Giza complex was a barracks for allied troops
- 1925: Subsidiary pyramid of Khufu’s mother, Queen Hetepheres, is found
- 1931–32: Excavations and restoration of the Great Sphinx by Émile Baraize
- 1954: Archeologists find two boat pits next to the Great Pyramid.
- 1985: Giza Solar boat museum constructed to house Khufu’s ship
- 2021: Revamp of the Pyramid complex to make the site more accessible
The History of the Pyramids of Giza
Building the Pyramids
c. 2600–2500 BC
The three Pyramids of Giza were built during the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, between 2600 and 2500 BC. The oldest of these structures is the Pyramid of Khufu. It’s believed that a workforce of 20,000 – 40,000 paid laborers took between 20 to 30 years to build each of the three Pyramids. They were built on the west bank of the Nile, which was thought of as the site of the setting sun and associated with the realm of the dead.
The Pyramids in Ancient Times
The pyramids were constructed as burial monuments for the deceased pharaohs. The ancient Egyptians believed that when a pharaoh died, they would live on in the afterlife as gods. So, they needed to be buried with the items they might need in their afterlife, and so the pyramids were used to store the pharaoh’s treasures. They were also built with mortuary temples where priests worshipped the deceased pharaohs.
Later Egyptian Kings
c. 1570–1069 BC
By the time of the New Kingdom (1570–1069 BC), the Giza complex was still an active site. The Pharaohs Thutmose I, Amenhotep II, and Thutmose IV built various temples near the Sphinx. Later kings such as Tutankhamun and Ramesses II also added new structures at the complex.
A Popular Roman Tourist Site
c. 480 BC–400 AD
After Egypt was annexed by the Romans between 32–30 BC, the Pyramids of Giza were regarded as antiquities. They became a popular tourist destination, even among Roman Emperors. The Sphinx was even restored in 60 AD in honor of Emperor Nero, and a stairway and podium were added to help visitors view the structure.
Explorations in the Middle Ages
In the middle ages, Egypt was conquered by Islamic Caliphs. The early rulers were fascinated by the Pyramids, and in 820 AD, Caliph Al-Ma'mun is said to have tunneled into the side of the Great Pyramid to explore what was inside. The writer Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi also studied the pyramids in 1200 AD, praising them as works of engineering genius, and the Islamic historian Al-Maqrizi further explored the Great Pyramid in the 1400s, including the sarcophagus in the coffin chamber.
Attempted Destruction of the Pyramids
In 1196 AD, Al-Aziz Uthman, the second Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt, tried to destroy the Pyramids of Giza, starting with that of Menkaure. His workers tried to pull down the pyramids for eight months but found that they were as expensive to destroy as they were to build. Since they were only able to remove one or two stones each day, Al-Aziz was unsuccessful. His expensive efforts merely left a long gash on the northern face of the Pyramid of Menkaure
Napoleon Visits the Pyramids
During the French invasion of Egypt in 1798, Napoleon visited the Pyramids of Giza before the Battle of Pyramids. He is said to have spent a few nights in the Pyramid complex before the battle and asked his soldiers to scale the exteriors of the pyramid. However, despite the legends saying that he spent the night alone inside the Great Pyramid, the truth is, he never ventured inside.
Early Egyptologists and the Pyramids
After the French discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799 and deciphered Hieroglyphics, Egypt was captured by the British in 1801. European historians soon began to show more interest in ancient Egypt and the pyramids. Important events include the first modern archaeological dig of the site in 1817, supervised by Giovanni Belzoni, and Howard Vyse’s explorations inside the pyramids of Khafre and Menkaure.
The Pyramids of Giza in World War I
During World War I, British soldiers were posted in Egypt to protect the Suez Canal. Many soldiers and nurses from Australia and New Zealand stayed in tents near the Giza complex. As a result, British and Imperial soldiers serving here followed the tourist routes and posed in front of tourist attractions including the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx.
Modern Egyptologists Explore the Pyramids
After a resurgence in interest in Egypt, following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s fabulous tomb in the 1920s, several modern Egyptologists have explored the site to find valuable discoveries about the pyramids. These include the excavation of the workers’ village, the discoveries of Khufu’s solar boats, and the tomb of Queen Hetepheres I.
The Pyramids of Giza Today
Frequently Asked Questions About the Pyramids of Giza History
A. The pyramids of Giza were built by Egyptian workers for the Fourth Dynasty pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
A. The pyramids of Giza were built as tombs for three pharaohs of the Fourth Dynasty of Ancient Egypt – Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure.
A. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest pyramid in the complex was completed around 2560 BC, making it approximately 4500 years old.
A. Of the three pyramids of Giza, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the tallest at a height of 137 meters. The Pyramid of Khafre is 136 meters tall and the pyramid of Menkaure is 62 meters tall.
A. According to experts, the pyramids were built using large limestone blocks that were quarried to the site. It took thousands of workers to plan and build the Giza Pyramids with the help of rollers, levers, ramps, and other tools.
A. Inside the pyramids of Giza, you will find several chambers, grand galleries, and the sarcophagi of the three pharaohs.
A. Yes, visitors can enter all the three Pyramids of Giza and a number of the Queen’s Pyramids at the site too.
A. No. The pyramids of Giza are a protected, ancient site, and climbing them is both dangerous and detrimental for the pyramid structure.
A. The pyramids of Giza are open daily from 8 AM – 5 PM in the summer months and 8 AM – 4 PM in the winter months.